Back-to-school shopping is the time where most parents scramble to check off all the items from an ever-growing list of supplies provided by the school.
While the quantity and type of supplies are usually determined by the teacher, there are still ways parents can buy everything needed without breaking their budget.
Why should you have a budget for school supplies?
It’s simple. School supplies can be quite expensive, and if you aren’t mindful of how much you’re spending, the total cost can add up to hundreds of dollars per child. (This is excluding clothing, which adds up much more quickly.)
How much should I budget for each child?
Creating a budget will be specific to you and your family's needs. For elementary grades, a good budget to stick to might be about $50 per child, a bit more or less depending on your area. This is how much I usually budget for my kids, who are in 7th grade and college, and we live in Los Angeles.
For middle school and high school, the total price of supplies can be a little more, however, older students usually don’t need quite as many items — and you’re usually not purchasing items for the classroom. Having any sort of budget in mind can help your spending from ballooning. You should be able to purchase what you need for about $50 to $60 per child if you stick with mostly generic notebooks and folders and sprinkle in a few name brand items where it matters (like pens and pencils).
As a parent and an avid frugal shopper, I try my best to buy decent quality items while staying within my shopping budget. This year, we were just a little over budget with our total of $106 for two kids. Here's how I did it.
Here are 5 tips that I use to stay within my back-to-school shopping budget
1. Check your home inventory
If you’ve been school shopping for a few years, chances are you have some supplies at home that were left over from the year before. Review your list to see if any of those items can be checked off prior to leaving for the store.
At one point, we bought so many packs of index cards that we now have five unopened packs to use over the next year or two. I saved about $25 this year by finding items around the house.
As parents, we usually buy more than our kids need, so we can use those extras to offset some of the costs for our back-to-school shopping — and that way, nothing goes to waste.
2. Scope out local sales
During back-to-school season, most stores will be fighting for your business with their back-to-school sales. Compare prices and find a store that has the majority of the items on your list. You can even choose one store that offers price matching, like Walmart, to buy all your necessities that are on sale there and price match to get the deals from the other stores.
Some of the best deals I found this year were at Walmart and Old Navy.
3. Buy online
Purchasing your supplies online saves time, money, and is convenient as well. I usually buy the bulk of my supplies online from Target or Walmart and have them delivered to the store for free pickup.
You won’t have to find parking, spend hours perusing messy aisles of supplies and stand in long lines at the checkout counter. In addition, you won’t be tempted to buy any unnecessary items that your kid wants.
4. Use rebates
Using rebates like Ibotta, Rakuten, and other cash-back apps can help you save money on things you already needed to buy. So, not only are you getting the store deals online, but you’re getting an additional cash back on those items.
It’s a win-win.
All you have to do is go to the rebate site first and let it redirect you to the website you want to shop from. It’s that simple and takes seconds, but the savings add up. Last year, I received $6.75 cash back simply for buying supplies I already needed.
Some stores like Office Depot and Staples also provide their own rebates on certain products like copy paper. Take advantage of those rebates because they’re usually a great deal.
Make sure that you submit your rebate as soon as you get home from the store so you don’t forget and lose out on the savings.
5. Reuse or repurpose
Instead of buying every single supply your child needs, look for ways to reuse the supplies they had last year. For example, if their binder is still usable, wipe it down and clean it up to be used again for another year — you'll save anywhere between $3 to $8 right there. If they had extra pens and pencils, corral them and put them in their pencil case to be put to good use.
Backpacks are a great item that can be reused for several years. If it's not worn out, a quick spin in the washing machine can get it looking new again and able to survive another year.
Each year, my family often has tons of leftover supplies that were half used or gently used. I encourage my kids to reuse these items until they’re finished or can’t be used again.
It’s important to remember that supplies don’t expire from one year to the next, so make the most out of the supplies you already have on hand and find ways to save money on any supplies you need to buy this year.